|An antique feather tree with wooden stand.|
In the 1880s or 1890s there grew several environmental concerns involving the deforestation associated with the harvest of Christmas trees in Germany and so the handcrafting of feather trees grew into a popular alternative. The branches were made from sturdy wire and could hold many ornaments. The pine needles were made from goose feathers, that could also be dyed any color under the sun, thereby making the trees desirable as decorative items among more adventurous consumers.
Although white, pink, and pale blue trees could be found among city dwellers in the later years of production, feather trees were initially made of green-dyed goose feathers which were attached to wire branches. The feathers were split and then secured with wire to form the branches. These wire branches were then wrapped around a central dowel which acted as the trunk. The branches were often widely spaced to keep the real candles clamped on the branches from starting a fire.
The trees were stored separately from the stands. These stands were either made from turned wooden parts or metal cast music boxes. The fanciest music box stands would also rotate the tree as a little Christmas tune played.
Germans also built tiny elaborate villages to set beneath their feather trees. These were and still are called "putz" in Germany. The term was derived from the German verb putzen, which means "to clean" or "to decorate." The Nativity or the Journey of The Holy Family are the most common themes represented beneath German Christmas trees. Germans collect and add new figures to their putz every year and some older collections include many contemporary figures and farm animals that would not realistically be found in a traditional Nativity scene.
How to make a holiday feather tree in the German tradition.
The enthusiasm for Christmas feather trees was brought to the United States by German immigrants in places such as Pennsylvania and Texas. Benefits touted for feather trees included the elimination of a trip to the tree lot and the lack of shed needles. Today, feather Christmas trees are valued as collectible antiques although there are small companies that still produce and sell them in the United States.
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